MR. CASTEN’S CLUTTER – Rich Paschall

Stuff, by Rich Paschall

Only his neighbor Jorge knew the old guy was sick.  In fact, Mr. Casten had been failing for almost two years.  Whenever Jorge saw the old man, he asked if there was anything he could do to help.  When Mr. Casten was not seen for a week, Jorge would go knock on his door.  If the old guy felt well enough he would stand in the doorway and talk for a while.  If it was morning, he would invite Jorge in for a cup of coffee.

By the time Casten had passed away, Jorge probably knew him as well as anyone.  Their little chats on the stairs, in the doorway or at the kitchen table revealed a lot about an old guy who had lived alone in the same small apartment most of his adult life.  The place was stuffed with memories and memorabilia.

Mr. Casten had collected and saved things throughout life, but in the last few years he tried to de-clutter his small existence.  He gave things away to charity resale shops.  He sent pictures he had from his parents on to other relatives.  He even sold some items on eBay.  It was all too late to clean up the house, however.  Mr. Casten’s small efforts were not enough after a lifetime of accumulation.

Since there were no siblings, no children, and no mate, the matter of cleanup and disposal was left to a crew of cousins. Jorge knew just who to call because Mr. Casten had prepared a list of contacts in case of his untimely demise. Although Mr. Casten was only in his late 60’s, his death arrived right on schedule the way Jorge saw it. Mr. Casten had gone as far as he could.

When the cousins arrived one Saturday morning to clean out the apartment, Jorge was waiting with the key that had been entrusted to him by Mr. Casten.  Four cousins and two of their teen age sons figured they would make fast work of the four room apartment.  They figured wrong.

“Oh my, who knew one person could collect so much stuff,” cousin Raymond declared.  “This could take all day!”

“Mr. Casten said to tell you guys to be sure to take for yourselves anything you want, then give anything else that is still good to charity.”

“And did you take something, Jorge?” cousin David said in a rather accusing tone.

“Yes,” Jorge replied calmly.  “I took the coffee cup he always gave me to drink out of.  It was the only thing I wanted.”

“Well, I heard he had a good baseball card collection,” cousin Jeff chimed in.  “I would like to have that if we can find it.”

“He’s got a lot of CDs here,” Raymond said in amazement.  “I think I will see what I need.”

“Hey dad,” one of the teenagers shouted out to David.  “He’s got a lot of DVDs. I am going to see if he has anything decent to watch”

As they randomly picked through the goods, cousin John grabbed one of the teenagers and said, “Let’s get to work.  With those guys working so hard out there, we will never get out of here!”

So John and a bored teenager went to the kitchen in search of large garbage bags.  “Under the sink,” Jorge instructed.

Armed with a box of bags, Jorge, John and the teenager went to the bedroom to empty closets and drawers.  John told the teenager to take everything in the closets and put it in bags for donation.  If it looked in bad shape, he should put it in a separate bag for the garbage.  John decided to do the same with the dresser.

As John and Jorge took items from the dresser, they found many new things in each drawer.  There were clothes with tags, new socks and underwear in packages, pajamas that were never worn and sweaters that looked new.

“I thought the old guy could not afford much,” John said in amazement.

“I think he was always afraid of running out of something,” Jorge said.  “He told me more than once that he was afraid to be poor and have nothing, so he kept everything and did not use anything until he needed it.”

“If he lived another 10 years he would not have to buy any clothes,” John said somewhat incredulously.

“Yeah, I think that was the idea,” Jorge noted.

Mr. Casten’s mother had grown up in the Great Depression.  She had nothing, so in her adult life she saved everything.  Anything that had value or possible use, she would save for whenever she might need it.  Of course, she had many things she never used, but they were there “just in case.”

When Casten was young, he knew they did not have much and he saw how his mother managed to get through the years with what they accumulated.  He naturally took on the same habits.  While everything may have seemed a jumbled mess to outside observers, especially cousins who never came to call, it was an organized home for Mr. Casten.

After many runs to the resale shop and the outside garbage cans, the crew had made a good deal of progress.  John declared he would return with one of the boys to finish the job the next day.

“That box in the corner marked pictures should also say ‘Cousins’ on the top,” Jorge remembered to tell them. “You should take that with you.”

“What would we want with a box of old pictures?” David said rather sarcastically.

So Jorge explained that collection.  “Mr. Casten thought that maybe someone would want to see them at a wake or service to remember how he looked, since he had not been invited to any family event in years.  I would guess you guys would be in a lot of those pictures from long ago.”

The cousins said nothing.  John grabbed the box on the way out.

Jorge closed the door.

See also: “The Accumulation of Stuff,” Reducing Clutter

EARLY RISER – A NEW NOVEL BY JASPER FFORDE – Marilyn Armstrong

Early Riser
A Novel – By Jasper Fforde



In Audible. I have it in hardcover too.
I’ve read it and listened to it.
Narrated by Thomas Hunt
Length: 15 hrs and 16 mins

Jasper Fforde has written some of the funniest books I’ve ever read. You know, the kind of book you read in bed, but you are laughing so hard it makes your partner wake up and irritably ask what the hell you are laughing at?

This book has moments of humor and once in a while, a chuckle. There’s no hilarity, however. Overall, there’s a seriousness to this story that none of his other books have had. This isn’t so much humor as it is a warning about where our climate is going and who is running our world. I don’t know which is more terrifying: the obvious sub-arctic winters in Scotland … or the death grip the mighty “pharma” company has on all humankind.

There are fighters against big pharma and the corporate grip the company holds over everyone. For reasons you will have to read the book to understand, it isn’t easy to figure out who is the good guy or who is the bad guy. There’s not “history” about how the world got to this place, but if you have been reading even the headlines, it isn’t hard to put it together.

This is science fiction, except … it’s not all that far-fetched. Sometimes, I found myself not merely listening to the story but worrying if this is just a story or this is the real future history of my Earth — unless we DO something about it. Like … NOW.

Of course, it’s beautifully written because everything Jasper Fforde has written is wonderful, though I still am in love with Thursday Next.

I do recommend this book very highly, but I have to warn you — it isn’t like his other books. It isn’t hilarious and sometimes, it’s pretty serious. But he’s telling us a story that I think we need to think about … while being well-entertained. Just so you know, this does take place in the future, so it actually is science fiction. Not your usual sci-fi, however.

Is this science fiction or is it our science future? I think you will have to decide for yourself.


I have mixed emotions about the narrator. He was good … but I think I’d have preferred a deeper voice? Or maybe I’m just being overly picky.

ARE WE THERE YET? SHORT FICTION FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY – Marilyn Armstrong

“Oh shut up. Can’t you kids ever stop squabbling back there? I’m going to put both of you on a time out, I swear I am.”

“But MOM, he TOUCHED ME!”

“Loretta, I am going to touch you and then you will have reason to cry. Joey, leave your sister alone.”

Voice of boy child with a strong adenoidal whine: “But MOOOOOOM, she’s taking up the whole back seat and I can’t help touching her. And why can’t I touch her? She touches me all the time.”

“She does what??”

“I do not”

“Do too.”

“DO NOT!@!”

{Long pause.}

In a whisper: “Do too.”

“Do not.”

Traffic

A booming baritone from the front seat, the Voice of Dad, speaks: “One more word out of either of you and I will stop this car and you will both be crying and you’ll have a damned good reason.”

{Whispers}

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

{Pause, pause, pause}

The sound of vomiting fills the car along with a sickening and pungent odor.

“Ew. Yuk. MOM he barfed all over me! Make him clean it up.”

Chorus:

“ARE WE THERE YET?”


This show has been brought to you by Happy Family, the breakfast cereal that’s got it all … sugar, food dye, trans-fat, and gluten. And no, we are not there yet.

THE SNOW GOOSE – Marilyn Armstrong

Snow Goose — Peterson: Field Guide to Birds

White with black primaries. Often rust-stained from feeding in muddy or iron-rich waters.


She checked “snow goose” from her “life list” of viewed birds. It was among the last of the remaining ones. She stood in the marsh, up to her shins in the same brown mud that had stained the lower feathers of her snow goose. She wondered if the world would last long enough for her to make the rest of her life list birds … or even if the birds would last long enough for her to put that check mark there.

She packed up her gear. Put away her glasses, her camera, and her book. It was a newer book because the birds had moved around. Many were gone, others no longer migrated or lived only in very small areas and distant from her.

And then, she walked back to her car. She had found her snow goose. As for the rest? It was all far too big for her … a world-class problem. Meanwhile, it was a very long drive back to civilization.


 NOTES ABOUT THE PICTURE:

The big male goose (there was another one, the slightly smaller female who was taking on other geese in another part of the lake (these birds mate for life as do geese) was attacking the geese who had taken their nest on the little island.

You won’t see geese and swans sharing a lake. Or, for that matter, herons who are equally possessive about”their” space. The geese were trying to move in and had stolen the swan’s nest They probably had eaten the eggs by then, too. That’s what big birds do to stop the encroachment of other large birds.

The swan in the pond

Geese and swan do NOT get along at all. It’s a kill or be-killed thing going on. A pity for us, because the lake is more than big enough for both, but they will not share it and the herons have the river and don’t come to the lake.

Ducks are every bird’s pal, oddly enough — but geese, swans, and herons are enemies. That had been a swan’s nest, We had watched them build it. There were no cygnets that year.

I couldn’t see what was going on, but I knew something was. It was on the other side of the lake. All I could see was white feathers and something happening, but the battle had underway for hours. Both swans had been patrolling, but the geese kept popping up.

Canada Geese are much faster than mute swans and surprisingly strong for their weight, but a full-grown Swan is MUCH bigger and stronger. They can’t take off and fly as the geese do — they are too heavy and need a lot of runway to get into the air, which is why they walk around lakes while the geese fly. So give it to the geese for mobility, but for sheer strength, swans have it.

Together forever, swans mate for life

The swans won ultimately.

As for me, I set the camera on “all the way out” and shot. I didn’t know what I had until I put the pictures in the computer. My eyes don’t do that well. The far side of the lake is too far for my eyes even with my “long distance” glasses on, but the lens got it.

We think only people fight, but animals have their lines drawn too.

GOODBYE AND GOOD LUCK – Rich Paschall

Thanks for your service, Rich Paschall

He had been in the business for almost 40 years.  The last twenty-seven of those with the same company.  He liked his job and thought he was good at it.  In just a few more years he would retire.  Everything seemed to be on track.

When Carl started in his career, orders were processed with typewriters.  Carbon paper was used when multiple copies were required.  Details of international orders were sent overseas by telex machine.  Everything was done manually and file cabinets were stuffed with files of all the orders and shipments.

Carl made it through all the changes.  At first, he thought an electronic typewriter with memory was just about the coolest thing.  Fax machines took the place of telex machines and worldwide communication was getting easier.  As the decades went on, technology and communications advanced faster and faster, but Carl kept right up with everything.  You could never say that Carl was behind the times.

Despite the efficiency of his work life, the same could not be said of Carl’s personal life until recent years.  Only as retirement thoughts started weighing on his mind did Carl pay attention to his accounts.  For the last few years, he contributed to the 401K plan.  He even took out some small CDs for better interest return, since savings and checking accounts returned him only pennies per month, literally.

Then came the problems of advancing age.  Bifocals were no longer good enough to do his job.  He was recommended to get trifocals but opted for a second pair of glasses — just to see the computer.  His hands were stiff and sore and he needed medication for that.

Nerve pain in the feet demanded a drug as did high cholesterol.  His blood tests never satisfied his doctor and even when he felt well, there were many pills to take.  With all these issues, Carl still carried on in grand fashion and handled his job like a pro.

When Carl got a new boss, they seemed to get along well.  She appeared to appreciate his experience and they often had nice little chats.  When Carl asked if he could come in late so he could have his annual physical, his boss seemed disappointed.  He assured her he would make up the time during the week and she finally voiced approval.

The doctor’s visit showed the usual issues, but also “abnormal cells in undetermined significance.”  Carl was referred to a specialist and he had to ask for another morning off.  The boss looked quite perturbed when she said: “OK if you must.” Unfortunately for Carl, he did, in fact, feel he must see the doctor.

The specialist was a handsome young man with a sunny disposition.  He indicated all the dire situations that may be happening with such a cute smile, Carl still felt at ease.  His examination and subsequent biopsy lead to “dysplasia but cells are undetermined.”  Carl was recommended to a surgeon.

Again, Carl asked for a morning off.  The stares of the boss led Carl to say he would make up his time the same week and he would not ask for any more time off in the coming months.  He was greeted with a long and painful silence.  “Fine,” the boss stated with an air of exasperation.

The following day was a Wednesday and Carl worked hard all day under the glares of his much younger boss.  Whenever Carl looked around, she seemed to be nearby staring at him.  Needless to say, it was a rather uncomfortable day.  Normally, Carl had pleasant days and nice little chats with coworkers.  He never got close to any of them or saw them socially.  One young man loved having random little conversations with Carl about anything every day, but he was the only friend if you could call him that.  Carl was just at work to do his job.

At the end of that day, just past 5 pm, the facilities manager, the superior to Carl’s boss, invited Carl down to her office for a chat.  When he got there his boss was already seated and staring at the floor.  The facilities manager began.

“Carl, you know we think you have been doing excellent work for us for many years but…” Then there was a long pause while the manager looked for the words.  “Well, business has fallen off some.  The stronger dollar means weaker business. We are well behind budget for the year and we must eliminate a position.  I am sorry, but we have to let you go.”

Carl was dumbfounded.  He planned to work another two or three years and retire.  He was not ready for this.  His boss continued to look at the floor when the manager spoke up again.  She explained about the last paycheck, vacation pay, Cobra insurance, unemployment.  She said she would write a nice letter of recommendation.  She closed by saying she was sorry, it was not personal, it was just economics.  She thanked him for his years of service.  His boss continued to stare at the floor.

pills and wine
pills and wine

He returned to his desk, took a few personal items while his bossed hovered nearby and he was then prepared to leave.  That’s when she came over and asked for his badge and ID and walked away.  “What was that?” a longtime female coworker asked.  “I was fired,” he replied.  The coworker started to cry.  Carl quietly said goodbye, looked around for his young friend, who was already gone, and he left.

After a few days of reviewing jobs online and making a few calls, Carl saw it would be difficult at his age and salary range to find a new position.  That night, he lined up all of his prescriptions on the kitchen table, including the container of powerful painkillers for his hand pain.  Next, he got a bottle of one of his favorite wines, appropriately chilled.  He opened the wine, poured himself a glass and sat down at the kitchen table.  There he looked over the table and contemplated his future.

OVER? OR A FRESH START? Stark #writephoto – Marilyn Armstrong

Thursday photo prompt: Stark #writephoto


Often, through the endless winter, Maggie had been sure her garden would never bloom again. As the frozen ground showed no signs of softening in spring sunshine and clumps of dirty brown snow lay on the earth, she would look at the garden and think: “This year, it can’t bloom. Too cold for too long. Too much ice and snow. And I have not been able to work with it, either.”

The overgrown disorder of the last year’s growth was still thatched across the garden. It had rained so much last year they’d been unable to clear it, so it had stayed there, mulching its way through the winter as they mulched with it.

Despite this and her nearly terminal certainty of imminent doom and total destruction, the garden would suddenly return. Everything bloomed at once. Roses and rhododendrons and daylilies and even the daffodils and columbine.

Flowers suddenly bloomed. In some of the worst years when winter had lain on the ground through most of May, those awful, bitter winters? In those years, the garden would bloom all at once with a frantic and wild passion as if it making up for the lost weeks of normal growth, for the dead months when they had been unable to set a single bud.

One day, she would come downstairs and out the gate and gasp at the amazing colors, how the roses had covered the buses like blankets. That the holly was almost a full story tall and even the miniature lilac bushes and thrown a flower or two.

It gave her hope in a world where the sun rarely shined and she prayed only that the well would not be polluted from something poured into the ground, seeping slowly into that fragile layer of underground water.

Their source of life was down there. In her case more than 450 feet down there, one of the deepest wells in the area. Their water had always been clear and ice-cold after it rose from the underlying rocks.

Was this barrenness a forerunner to one more garden? One more summer when the heat didn’t burn the earth to cinders?

She could only watch and wait. Each year was different. One year, it never stopped raining and after a while, the ground felt like a giant sponge, soft and gooey. Then there would be years of drought, leaving all of them wondering if the underground miracle of water would survive.

It was the very early days of the first week in May. In normal years — sometimes called “the old days” — she’d have already seen her early flowers. The garden would have moved on from crocus to daffodil and would now be full of Columbine and the green shoots of daylilies. The old lilac outback would be about to bloom.

Wild garden

But maybe, one more year, the earth would catch its breath and everything would grow again. Maybe the rivers would fill up and somehow, as if they too were seeds waiting to be born, fish would be there and snapping turtle. The geese and the swans and the herons would fish and flocks of ducks would magically float down with the current.

All she could do was wait and never give up hope. the Earth would come back. After all, it always had.

DEATH OF DEMOCRACY

A cautionary fairy tale by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

The King Brothers strode through the luxurious lobby of the grand Wilford Washington Hotel. It is a stately old hotel with all the modern amenities. Only the richest of the rich can stay at the Wilford, and the King Brothers were among the one percent that controlled most of the nation’s wealth. It was a particularly joyous night for the highly successful businessmen as they again used their business skills and wealth to get what they wanted.

Your Vote CountsAlthough they were knowledgeable and successful businessmen, Chauncey and Derrick King owed most of their wealth to inheritance. Their father discovered a new way of making energy. It was not the most environmentally responsible method, but it sure made a lot of money.

When old Farley King passed on, Chauncey and Derrick aced out two other brothers to grab control of the largest privately held corporation in the nation. Now they had their sights set on power. They wanted the sort of power that would assure continued success to their business as well as that of their friends. This meant no environmental controls that would limit their production.

The boys were all smiles as they moved to the elevators, one of which would take them to an exclusive penthouse party to celebrate victory. It was election night in the nation and everything was falling into place. Despite the massive price tag of their efforts, they were pleased with what their investment had purchased.

When the doors of the elevator opened, the King brothers found family, friends and a few carefully selected politicians on hand. They all had the opportunity to partake in the best drinks and hors d’oeuvre money could buy.  Chauncey was partial to a particular wine from France, Pierre Jouet Champagne, at a mere $6,500 per bottle. The hotel secured a case of it just for the event.

Cal Rhodes came up to the boys with the latest good news. “We have won another one. Just one more and we will control the Senate as well as the House. There are victory celebrations in just about every one of the party campaign headquarters across the country.”

For all the money the brothers dumped into attack ads and digging up dirt on the other party, they felt they ought to win most of the battles. And win them they did, all night long.

Time to vote! - Marilyn Armstrong

The party went well past midnight as they all kept a careful eye on the western states. The laughing and joking and storytelling of the earlier hours had given way to watching election results. Giant screen televisions around the room had been playing FIX News all night, but now they turned up the sound so everyone could hear. The audience hung on the words of the political reporters they knew and loved.

Elections in Oregon and Idaho were unexpectedly close. While Oregon was supposed to be a battle, Idaho was considered “a lock” for the brothers prior to election night.

“What the hell is going on in Idaho?” Chauncey shouted at Cal.

“I’ll check it out,” was all Cal could say as he went back to working the phones, a task he normally relished. It would not be good for Cal or any of the architects of the Senate strategy if they did not pick up one of the remaining states.

The numbers on the election boards were moving agonizingly slowly. Derrick said to no one in particular, “No one lives in Idaho, how long can it take to count a few votes?” At just past one in the morning, Eastern time, the crowded roomful of conservatives heard the news they’d been waiting for.

“With 93 percent of the precincts reporting, FIX News projects the incumbent Senator from the state of Idaho has held off an unexpected challenge and will retain his seat.”

With that announcement, Chauncey ordered another bottle of his favorite champagne. “Give everyone a glass. Let’s toast this hard-fought, hard-bought victory.” They toasted until the wine was gone and the guests headed home or back to their rooms in the warm, friendly Wilford Washington Hotel.

Derrick went to Cal with hardiest congratulations.

“You know, Cal, it’s time we set our agenda for the next two years. We need to start working on it immediately. But let’s get a good night’s sleep first. We’ve all earned it.” With that, Cal got a big hug from both King brothers before heading downstairs to his room.

On the very next day, with the House and Senate in hand, the King brothers discussed who should be the candidate for the highest post in the land two years hence. Whoever they picked would become their anointed one, their monarch and would serve the brothers well.

They would send him off to live in a big white house. Congress would pass all the Kings’ proclamations and the brothers would live happily ever after.

The very end.